A similar transformation of video would not just allow trouble-free playback of any video you might encounter. It would also mean that any innovation, such as a new way to search, would apply to all videos, allowing new technologies to spread more rapidly. And it would make it far easier to mix videos together and create Web links to specific moments in different videos, just as if they were words and sentences plucked from disparate online text sources: imagine linking part of a politician’s speech to a contradictory utterance years earlier. “In 1993 people thought AOL’s newsrooms were mind-blowing, because that’s all they were exposed to,” says Dean Jansen, outreach director of the Participatory Culture Foundation, a nonprofit group that is developing an open-source video player called Miro. “Now they can write their own blogs and find and read hundreds of thousands of news sources and blogs, from all over the Internet. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is the scale of change that would become possible if video [technologies] were totally free online, like text and images.”
Today, Dale works toward realizing that vision as part of an effort by the Wikimedia Foundation, which launched and operates Wikipedia, to create video companions to the online encyclopedia’s text entries. The idea is that you’ll be able to search the Web for snippets of video, import them into a Wikipedia article, and keep track of edits–all using open technologies that don’t require video plug-ins or software purchases. One hope is that Wikipedia, as the world’s seventh-largest website, will help drive video openness generally, says Chris Blizzard, director of technical evangelism at Mozilla, which is supporting the project. But the larger point is that efforts like these will make it far easier for anyone to innovate with video and for anyone else on the Web to enjoy those innovations. The results are impossible to predict, except through the example of what the open Web has provided so far. “Nobody is going to tell you they want something before it emerges,” Blizzard says. “Rather, the experience of the Web is: ‘Holy cow, I can do this other thing now!’ Open standards create low friction. Low friction creates innovation. Innovation makes people want to pick it up and use it. But it’s not something where we can guess what ‘it’ is. We just create the environment that lets ‘it’ emerge.”
Let’s Go Crazy
YouTube has helped make video a mainstay of the Web, thanks largely to its simplicity and user-friendliness. Anyone can open a YouTube account and upload videos, and anyone who visits YouTube can easily find and watch videos, all free. It has become the world’s third-most-popular website, with 41 percent of the video-hosting market. A recent analyst report by Credit Suisse predicts that YouTube will serve up an astonishing 75 billion video streams this year, to 375 million users. And every minute, YouTube’s burgeoning servers slurp up 20 hours’ worth of newly uploaded user videos, says the company’s director of product management, Hunter Walk. Susan Boyle, the Scottish songstress phenom? The latest footage from Tehran’s street protests? Bulldogs on skateboards? Your cousin’s baby video? It’s all there, available in a few clicks.
And as YouTube grows and adds features, it continues to stress simplicity and user satisfaction (much in the spirit of its current owner, Google, which bought YouTube in 2006 in a deal worth $1.65 billion). Among other features, it has introduced ways for users to add elements such as captioning to their videos, build on their social networks (by automatically alerting Twitter followers when they upload new videos, for example), and annotate videos with computer-readable tags to improve search results. Other new tools can help businesses manage their YouTube-hosted videos and learn who is watching them. “YouTube represents a unique place in the video ecosystem; the breadth, depth, and freshness of content is unparalleled,” Walk says. “The best years are ahead of us.” In 2009, uploads of videos from mobile devices are up 1,700 percent–400 percent just since the release of the new iPhone 3G, he says. And the only obvious price of such service is exposure to advertising.